While looking for schools to attend after community college, I came upon the Adventure Leadership Institute (ALI) at Oregon State University. They offered classes like backpacking, kayaking and mountaineering. I thought if I took those classes, learning different outdoor activities would be fun and would be easy. So, with an acceptance letter from OSU, I decided to go.

Turns out, the ALI isnʼt easy.

There are a few things the ALI expects from its students, things I was not prepared for at the time: active learning, or actually engaging with the activity being taught (this sounds like a no-brainer, but most education is passive), engaging with classmates on a fairly personal level, and lastly taking responsibility for your actions.

These sounds easy enough: engage, socialize, take responsibility.

Wow  - no college classroom had asked that of me before.  The ALI challenged me in ways that I had not been challenged before.

Here are just a few outcomes of my three years in the program:

1. I learned how to learn (and how I learn best): it was like being in a classroom for the very first time. From grade school on, the expectations of sitting in a classroom and listening are clear and do not vary. ALI classes challenge that norm via experiential education. Iʼve taken away different ways people learn and what works best for me.

2. I learned how to interact with people: Iʼm naturally introverted, so this part of the program was especially challenging for me. I have always been social, but being open and engaging as a trip leader is far out of my comfort zone. While I still do not naturally fall into a leadership role, my boundaries for leadership have expanded.

3. I recognize my limits: Being outside is uncomfortable. I learned this on my first trip with the ALI. That trip also showed me my limits are wider than I expected and each successive class or trip pushed those limits, no matter how much I resisted, a little farther each time. Iʼll be honest, I still wonʼt activity seek activities that push my boundaries, but I can withstand more "uncomfortable" now than when I started.

4. I strive for quality and competence in all that I do: The ALI expects competence moving forward through the program and teaches the subtle characteristics of a quality program along the way. Now I carry that desire for quality and competence with me to other areas of my life.

5. I learned what I am passionate about in life: I am passionate about outdoor recreation, and love hiking and backpacking as a hobby. Guiding, however is not my passion. At OSU, my major focus was called “outdoor education,” where I split my time in adventure education and environmental education. I found my passion to be environmental education, however the ALI has provided the foundation of discovery and adventure that is required for me to be a successful environmental educator.

In many ways, the ALI was one of the most challenging things I have done because it constantly pushed me beyond my comfort zone. That is why for most of the time, I wanted out of the program. I still do not know why I stayed for as long as I did; probably because with each successful class or trip I felt I could do more. But, now that I am gone, I mourn the fact that the ALI is probably one of the places that will challenge me the most, push me the most, teach me the most or change me as much as it did.

So, thank you.

By: Andrew DelGreco, Adventure Leadership Institute Alumni